MSB Technology has created a new DAC that is not only the very best that this highly respected Californian company can do but includes ten years worth of upgrades. The Diamond DAC IV Select is a new concept in high end audio and at £63,000 an expensive one, but if you want to have the very latest digital technology now and in future it’s as good an option as you’ll find. MSB’s Larry Gullman brought the Select to my den and told me all about his new concept:
“Select is two things it’s a new DAC and a new concept. We are comprised of engineers at MSB, we’re always changing and developing. Our distributors are always pushing us to leave the product alone for a while so they can get it reviewed, make their literature and then sell it. Just about the time the product gets a little momentum the next model comes out! It drives them crazy but we can’t resist improving it, if we’ve found a way to make it sound better we want to release it. So the Select is a moving target, it doesn’t ever ship the same, everything new we discover we put in it immediately, we offer a ten year upgrade guarantee to the customer so we become kind of partners with our customers. We’re going to have some fun with this product, we’re going to keep playing with it, playing with it and playing with it and you can play along with us. That’ll appeal to a certain group of customers and it certainly appeals to us, we want a way to get the new breakthroughs to the customer immediately. We don’t want to wait for a new model next year.
“The Select has already gone through one major upgrade since it was released. The day it started it was the best of what we had, it was the Diamond DAC with Diamond Power Base and the best volume modules we had and the best clock. It was virtually identical except for a guarantee, since then it’s changed. The box is now full and there’s no room for anything else, so we’re working on the next generation which is going to be a larger case with a new mother board, new DAC modules, new volume control, new everything. It’s just going to be replaced if it needs to, it’s going to be a whole new chassis. If you bought in early that’s free for you, for the first year all upgrades are free and for the next nine years you just pay the difference in price so you don’t lose anything.
“It gives us the opportunity to get instant feedback. What we hear in the lab isn’t always universal, sometimes it’s very specific to our set-up, our power, our room and we need to go out in the market and verify that it’s a universal improvement.
The difference between what we’re shipping today and the Diamond is huge, where it shows up is the noise floor, the character and sound of the noise floor. If the original was analogue tape it sounds like analogue tape, it’s a natural kind of noise. Your mind hears it and says aah I know that sound I’m going to ignore it, then you can listen right through the noise. Hall effects sound so much like the hall instead of hum and hiss and ambient noise that it doesn’t distort the source and I’m in the hall hearing the source, it’s really striking.
“Bad things sound worse and good things sound better and some of the bad things sound bad enough now that your mind is capable of ignoring them. When you listen at the same level there’s a perception that its 2dB down, that noise around the material has gone and you think that the level has dropped. We’ve done some things that we’ve never done before, I feel like we’re working with different vectors now. We have the jitter vector that’s very independent from everything else we do and when you change clocks you can really hear what jitter sounds like. We have the DAC accuracy vector which is totally independent, you take our Analog DAC which has low accuracy but very low jitter, so it sounds very analogue, very sweet but when you start analysing the harmonics of the instruments you go OK, it really doesn’t have the resolution of the Diamond but it’s so pleasant that I really don’t care. You can separate those two vectors.
“In the Select you have all that resolution and accuracy and you hear it. There’s a third vector in the Select that I don’t have a name for and I’m not even talking about technically but it’s something we’ve never played with before. It almost makes you wonder if you’re being tricked, it really shows up in the noise and whether the noise sounds believable or not.
“We’ve always told everyone, everything we do with our DACs and we’re so heavily copied at this point that with Select we decided to say nothing. Just to give it a name is going to lead our competition to look into it. It’s funny how technology works, things that we dismissed twenty years ago as being irrelevant because we had so many bigger problems to deal with, sometimes you come back to those early things. This is something we have ignored for 20 years, it wasn’t relevant then because we had much bigger fish to fry, so we came back to it and said I wonder if this can be ignored and if it would make a difference? And woah! It’s something that everyone can read about how it’s done, but it shouldn’t have been done that way.
“Select has no options that we charge for, you can have it any way you want. If you want an extra USB input just ask for it, if you want it red you can have it in red, if you want an extra analogue input installed we’ll install it. We don’t nitpick over it, it just takes longer.”
I was able to listen to the Select DAC for a short while and have to say that it is quite remarkable. Whether used with discs in the MSB’s Universal Media Transport or streaming through that unit and thence into the DAC it delivers a degree of resolution and musicality that I have not previously encountered. The way that the full character of instruments and voices are produced in the room is uncanny, things are so much more real and solid than usual that it takes some getting used to. A lot of high end DACs do detail extremely well but many fail to deliver the pace and energy of the music effectively, the Select does both incredibly well. This presumably because of the noise floor plumbing skills that Larry mentions, when the noise is separated so effectively you can hear the character of the notes that much more clearly. Put it this way, even Adele brought a lump to my throat and that hasn’t happened before! I have put my name down to get a review sample at the earliest opportunity and frankly I can’t wait.
MSB Technology is distributed in the UK by Hi-Fi Traders.